Growing up in the state, it is one of the first things you understand. There is often no middle ground, you either choose to be for Auburn or Alabama and nobody else. This week is the yearly culmination of talking and boasting between friends and foes on both sides of the issue as the two teams meet Saturday in Tuscaloosa on CBS at 2:40 p.m.
While every Auburn player understands what this rivalry means, perhaps none are as deeply rooted as defensive end Bret Eddins. The son of former Auburn defender Liston Eddins and a long time follower of Auburn football, the sophomore said that being fortunate enough to play in the game this weekend is like a dream come true.
Bret Eddins has broken into the starting lineup at defensive end as a sophomore.
"This is one of those deals that you dream about your whole life and now it's there," Eddins says. "It seems like it's just a second that it's there and then it's gone. I think the whole team is excited about the chance to play Alabama. They've had a real good season and we've had some big disappointments in ours. Hopefully, we'll be able to pick it up for this game."
Coming off a heartbreaking loss to Georgia in the last minute Saturday, the Tigers are hoping for a big finish to a season that has shown so much promise only to end several times in agony. With close losses to USC in the opener and in overtime to Florida along with the Georgia game, Eddins says the team felt like they did all the could to win the game but couldn't keep from losing it.
"You can just see it in everybody's eyes that they really wanted to win that game," Eddins notes. "They really wanted to finish the season strong. It's just a big disappointment. I think somebody said earlier that they could deal with getting beat, but they couldn't deal with just losing. A lot of the guys on the team felt like we just lost that game, we didn't get beat."
A role player the first part of the season, Eddins has come on strong and is now a key contributor to Coach Gene Chizik's defense. The 6-5, 254 former linebacker has seven tackles the last two games and two tackles for losses, over half of his season totals in both areas in 2002. Strong safety Junior Rosegreen says he's seen his teammate mature and advance greatly in the last few games.
"Bret stepped his game up to another level Saturday," Rosegreen says. "I think he's gotten some confidence about himself and I think he'll be ready for this game. He's going to have a good game Saturday because Bret just keeps getting better and better game-by-game as the year goes on."
Since giving up 426 yards rushing to the Arkansas Razorbacks on Oct. 12 in a 38-17 loss, the Auburn defense has been the group that was expected before the season began. Allowing a total of just 553 yards in the five games since, an average of 110.6 yards per contest, Eddins says this week will be a big challenge facing an Alabama team that leads the league in rushing and total offense.
"You look at Alabama," Eddins says. "I think they are the number one defense in the nation now. They've got a great defense and I think we've got a pretty good defense. It's going to come down to, I think, a defensive battle because if their offense gets going I think Coach (Dennis) Franchione and them really do a good job of mixing up their plays. We're going to have to work real hard to get ready for them. I think us playing Arkansas already should help us."
With just one senior on the Auburn team from Alabama, some fans have expressed some concern over how much this team cares or understands about the rivalry. Eddins says there is no need to worry about whether Auburn will be ready for this game or not, he's seen the evidence in the eyes of his teammates. It started that day last year in Jordan-Hare Stadium when Auburn lost a chance to play in Atlanta by dropping a game to Alabama and it has been there ever since.
"Just because they're not from here doesn't mean they don't understand the rivalry," Eddins says. "They've been here for four or five years and they see how much it means to the Auburn family. They are part of the Auburn family so it's a big deal to them. Just because I've been 20 years growing up in the rivalry doesn't mean those guys don't understand it. I think maybe for us it means a little more for our families because they live here and have to put up with it. Other than that I think everybody on the team understands how big it is."